We are not the enemies
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, June 29 2014
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Police Inspector Roger Alexander...
Long before citizens were able to put a face to the man, police inspector Roger Alexander was already a household name.
The former lead source on the Crime Watch series hosted by Ian Alleyne, Alexander connected with the show’s viewership, some of whom comprised families of the victims of violent crime and perceived injustices.
He provided succinct analyses of the crimes plaguing the troubled communities of east Port-of-Spain and its environs, also impressing in the minds of viewers, a sense of the trials police officers face daily in hotspot areas.
But Alexander, who now hosts his own crime-centred programme on television, has landed himself in hot water for statements he made in the aftermath of the killing of a Laventille man, Keshorn Daniel, last weekend.
Daniel, 19, of Desperlie Crescent, was reportedly shot dead during a confrontation with police officers assigned to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) at about 12.35 am, last Saturday.
Reports stated that the IATF officers were on surveillance patrol in the area when they claimed that Daniel, who was accompanied by other men, opened fire on them.
The officers returned fire, shooting Daniel in the upper body. He died minutes after being rushed to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital. Police later recovered a .40 calibre pistol at the scene.
In the ensuing melee, outraged relatives issued death threats to the officers involved in the shooting.
Alexander, head of the North-Eastern Division Task Force, subsequently declared that the police was at war with criminals.
“Let us go to war! We have no choice but to go to war. I have been saying this all the time.... eventually we will have to confront these persons. We are at war,” he said on a radio programme.
Alexander makes no apologies for his statement, insisting in a wide-ranging Sunday Newsday interview on Thursday, that the police will respond to clear threats if targeted.
“Many people believe that the police must allow criminals to chastise, rape, murder people and we must just stand by and observe. There are persons just bent on lawlessness, chaos and calamity,” he said, adding that his statement was taken out of context.
Alexander maintains that the actions police officers often adopt when responding to crises, particularly in troubled communities, are not done haphazardly but on the basis of information and sometimes, prolonged surveillance of questionable individuals.
Aware that hasty confrontations with criminals could lead to the death of police officers, Alexander said, “The reactions you give can cause you to invite your own death.”
The problem, he says, is exacerbated by a chronic shortage of manpower within the division.
“We are operating with a strength of officers from 2006 and we are in 2014,” he complained.
Contrary to the views of many in the society, Alexander said he has often tried to instil in his charges the need to protect and not agitate the people living in crime-plagued communities
“We are not their (people’s) enemies. We are not the source of their frustration. We are not the ones that are infringing their rights for political mileage. The enemy are the persons who leave one area to come to them. That is the enemy,” he said in an interview at the San Juan Police Station, Croisee.
Alexander said he has often wondered about what would become of the people in east Port-of-Spain if the police were to stop their intervention.
“I wonder if the Muslim and Rasta factions understand the teachings of their faith. If so, why are they destroying their people’s history with their behaviour?” he asked.
Alexander’s approach to policing is a conciliatory one — bridging the gap between the police and the community — as opposed to the confrontational paradigm, which, he says, is often projected in the media. And, of course, there are new nuances in the fight against crime.
“There is no one brush for everything. Crime must he handled differently in different areas. The crime that is fought in West End may be different from the one in east Port-of-Spain and that is the point I am trying to make. That is why I said, ‘If they want to go to war, is war (in reference to last week’s Laventille murder),” Alexander said.
He says often times he and his colleagues are left heartbroken after experiencing the deplorable living conditions in which many families live.
“When we execute search warrants at these homes and we see the condition that families are living in, we immediately put up money on the spot to give them. Some of the young people in these homes cannot even study properly because their homes are so hot,” he said.
A long-time fan of America’s Most Wanted, Alexander recalled that he had initially raised the idea for a show on crime and policing with then Police Commissioner James Philbert as well as foreign criminologist, Dr Stephen Mastrofski, who had been hired by the People’s National Movement, a decade ago, come up with a crime plan and revamp the Police Service.
The idea laid dormant for years before Alleyne, a virtual unknown at the time, was later accepted to host a programme dealing with crime in its various manifestations.
Alexander’s burning interest in the show, coupled with his hands-on experience in police work, made him a natural at keeping viewers abreast on the happenings in hotspot communities but he was not a fan of the eventual “bacchanal” thrust of the show nor the exploiting of citizens.
Alexander, who is also the vice-president of the Police Social and Welfare Association, severed ties with Alleyne when the latter contested the St Joseph bye-election on a UNC ticket last November. He told Sunday Newsday:
“A politician cannot be a police. It is easier for a police to be a politician.”
A self-proclaimed gym enthusiast, Alexander’s burly structure belies his warmth and progressive spirit.
The product of a single-parent household in Pointe-a-Pierre, Alexander grew up in an area where, he said, people “graduated from stealing car decks to committing murder.”
“But I needed to make my mother proud because I saw how hard she had to work. She remains my mentor.”
Alexander said he resolved, then, to dedicate his life to fighting crime and after spending some time in the military, has now secured some 21 years in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.
He spent just three months as a uniformed officer in the South-Western Division, when he started out, before moving to the North-Eastern Division. He was promoted to the rank of police inspector in December 2012.
Serving in several ranks at various units over the years, Alexander says he has experienced the highs and lows of police work and insists that an officer can never be compensated for the work he or she does, especially in crime-torn districts.
“It is the only job where a person signs up to be taking risks for life. Money can never compensate for what we do,” he said, though he recommends special compensation for police officers working in hotspot communities, across the board.
“We are the ones who really take all the risks, are shot at daily by persons who have no fear and respect for a man’s life.”
Alexander sums up the current crime situation in the country as one of acceptance.
“It seems that it is okay to murder a man and walk past him, all right for criminal elements to grab an old lady’s purse and nobody reacts to her screams, all right for criminals to enter your neighbour’s home and nobody calls the police, okay for a father to rape his daughter and the mother makes no report to the police station,” he said.
Insisting that the society has become lawless in many areas, Alexander said the media had a major role to play changing the paradigm.
He said: “I feel that the media is so involved that they are used as a launching pad to excite the public and gain grounds for ratings. Sometimes, I wonder if the media does not encourage a certain type of behaviour today to get the right story tomorrow.”
Regarding the operational aspects of policing, Alexander observed that the laws of the country has not changed to meet the crimes being perpetrated.
Further, he said, too many persons in authority were making decisions about crime and police work without the actual input of the police.
“That, I believe, is another contributor,” he said.
Given the crime situation, Alexander, who occasionally gives motivational speeches to students of SERVOL (Service Volunteered for All), says he is concerned about the large numbers of children who may soon be seeking employment after the release of the CXC/CAPE results within the next few weeks.
“I hope that the criminal element will not manifest itself and that these young people will be able to think for themselves because there are people bent on these (criminal) activities,” he said.
Despite the burdensome task he faces daily, Alexander says he is not without hope.
“I would just like to wake up one day and see a better Trinidad and Tobago.... I am leaving things in the Lord’s hands,” he said.